Elizabeth Lee McGovern (born July 18, 1961) is an American film, television, and theater actor, and musician. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Evelyn Nesbit in the 1981 film Ragtime. She is also known for her performance as Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham in the British drama series Downton Abbey, for which she has been nominated for an Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award. Her other films include Ordinary People (1980), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Handmaid's Tale (1990), The Wings of the Dove (1997) and The Chaperone (2018).
Elizabeth McGovern at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival
Elizabeth Lee McGovern
July 18, 1961
Evanston, Illinois, U.S.
McGovern was born in Evanston, Illinois, the daughter of Katharine Wolcott (née Watts), a high school teacher, and William Montgomery McGovern, Jr., a university professor. Her younger sister is novelist Cammie McGovern. Her paternal grandfather was adventurer William Montgomery McGovern, her maternal great-grandfathers were U.S. diplomat Ethelbert Watts and Admiral Charles P. Snyder, and her maternal great-great-grandfather was Congressman Charles P. Snyder. During her early years, the McGovern family moved to Los Angeles, where her father accepted a teaching position with the law school at UCLA.
Agent Joan Scott saw her performance in The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder, was impressed by her talent, and recommended she take acting lessons. McGovern studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and studied toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama at the Juilliard School in New York City as a member of Group 12 from 1979 to 1981.
In 1980, while studying at Juilliard, McGovern was offered a part in what became her first film, Ordinary People, in which she played the girlfriend of troubled teenager Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton). The following year she completed her acting education at the American Conservatory Theatre and Juilliard, and began to appear in plays, first Off-Broadway and later in famous theaters.
In 1984, she starred in Sergio Leone's gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America as Robert De Niro's romantic interest Deborah Gelly. She had leading roles in two other films that year, Racing with the Moon, a coming-of-age story also starring Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage, and the comedy Lovesick, as a patient whose psychiatrist (Dudley Moore) falls in love with her, risking his practice.
McGovern co-starred with Kevin Bacon in a romantic comedy, She's Having a Baby, directed by John Hughes, and starred in the thriller The Bedroom Window, directed by Curtis Hanson. She teamed with Michael Caine in 1990's A Shock to the System, a comic mystery about a man who plots the murder of his wife.
In a 1994 comedy, The Favor, McGovern played a woman who cheats on her boyfriend (played by Brad Pitt) by becoming her married best friend's proxy in a tryst with a man the friend has fantasized about.
McGovern has appeared in several television productions, mostly in the UK. In 1999 and 2000 McGovern played Marguerite St. Just in a BBC television series loosely based on the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel.
On American TV, she appeared in a 2006 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit titled "Harm," in which her character of Dr. Faith Sutton was a psychiatrist accused of complicity in detainee abuse. Her other television work includes Broken Glass (Arthur Miller, 1996); Tales from the Crypt; The Changeling; Tales from Hollywood; the HBO series Men and Women; The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt; Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"); and If Not for You (CBS 1995, own series).
In December 2008, McGovern appeared as Dame Celia Westholme in "Appointment with Death", an episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot. In the same year, she appeared in the three-part BBC comedy series Freezing, written by James Wood and directed and co-produced by her husband Simon Curtis. First broadcast on BBC Four, it was also shown on BBC2 in February 2008. McGovern played an American expatriate actress named Elizabeth, living in Chiswick with her publisher husband, played by Hugh Bonneville, and co-starring Tom Hollander as her theatrical agent.
McGovern is also a singer-songwriter. In 2008 she began fronting the band Sadie and the Hotheads at The Castle pub venue in Portobello Road, London. The band released an album of songs she developed with The Nelson Brothers, who are now part of the band. The album also includes Ron Knights on bass and Rowan Oliver, borrowed from Goldfrapp, as drummer for the recording sessions. Michelle Dockery, who plays McGovern's eldest daughter in Downton Abbey, has occasionally sung with the band.
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Roles in New York include:
- Melissa Gardner in Love Letters (A R Gurney) at the Edison Theatre, October 1989
- Ophelia in Hamlet with the Roundabout Theater Company at the Criterion Center Stage Right, April 1992.
- Mrs. Conway in Time and the Conways at the American Airlines Theatre, October 2017
In her theatre programme CVs (below), McGovern lists her other theatre work in the U.S. as including:
- My Sister in This House (Wendy Kesselman)
- Painting Churches (Tina Howe)
- The Hitch-Hiker
- A Map of the World (David Hare)
- Aunt Dan and Lemon (Wallace Shawn)
- A Midsummer Night's Dream at the New York Shakespeare Festival, Winter 1987
- When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout (Sharman Macdonald)
- Maids of Honour
- Three Sisters (Chekhov)
- As You Like It
Since moving to London, McGovern's stage work has included:
- Jenny in The Misanthrope (Molière freely adapted by Martin Crimp) at the Young Vic Theatre, February 1996
- Darlene in Hurlyburly (David Rabe) at the Old Vic Theatre, March 1997
- Nan and Lina in Three Days of Rain (Richard Greenberg) at the Donmar Warehouse, March and November 1999
- Beth in Dinner With Friends (Donald Margulies) at the Hampstead Theatre, June 2001
- Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne adapted by Phyllis Nagy) at the Minerva Theatre, August 2005
- Jackie Kennedy in Aristo at the Minerva Theatre, September – October 2008
- Judith Brown in Complicit by Joe Sutton in The Old Vic, January 2009
- Miss A in The Shawl by David Mamet in the Arcola Theatre, September 2009
- Veronica in God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza at the Theatre Royal, Bath, August - September 2018
When she was 23, McGovern was engaged to actor Sean Penn whom she met on the set of Racing with the Moon. In 1992, she married British film director and producer Simon Curtis; the couple have two daughters, Matilda and Grace.
|1980||Ordinary People||Jeannine Pratt|
|1980||Last Year's Model||Unknown||Short film|
|1981||Ragtime||Evelyn Nesbit||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
|1984||Once Upon a Time in America||Deborah Gelly (adult)|
|1984||Racing with the Moon||Caddie Winger|
|1986||Native Son||Mary Dalton|
|1987||The Bedroom Window||Denise|
|1988||She's Having a Baby||Kristy Briggs|
|1989||Johnny Handsome||Donna McCarty|
|1990||The Handmaid's Tale||Moira|
|1990||A Shock to the System||Stella Anderson|
|1990||Tune in Tomorrow...||Elena Quince|
|1993||King of the Hill||Lydia|
|1993||Me and Veronica||Fanny|
|1995||Wings of Courage||Noelle Guillaumet||Short film|
|1997||The Wings of the Dove||Susie "Sue" Stringham|
|1998||The Man with Rain in His Shoes||Diane|
|1998||The Misadventures of Margaret||Till Turner|
|2000||The House of Mirth||Mrs. Carry Fisher|
|2001||Buffalo Soldiers||Mrs. Berman|
|2008||Inconceivable||Tallulah "Tutu" Williams|
|2010||Clash of the Titans||Marmara|
|2012||Cheerful Weather for the Wedding||Mrs. Thatcham|
|2015||Woman in Gold||Judge Florence Cooper|
|2017||The Wife||Elaine Mozell|
|2018||The Commuter||Karen McCauley|
|2019||Downton Abbey||Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham||Filming|
|1979||California Fever||Lisa Bannister||Episode: "The Girl from Somewhere"|
|1984||Faerie Tale Theatre||Snow White||Episode: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"|
|1990||Women & Men: Stories of Seduction||Vicki||Television film|
|1991||Ashenden||Aileen Somerville||Television film|
Nominated—CableACE Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
|1992||Tales from Hollywood||Helen Schwartz||Television film|
|1993||Performance||Beatrice-Joanna||Episode: "The Changeling"|
|1995||If Not for You||Jessie Kent||8 episodes|
|1995||Broken Trust||Janice Dillon||Television film|
|1996||Broken Glass||Margaret Hymen||Television film|
|1996||The Summer of Ben Tyler||Celia Rayburn||Television film|
|1996||Tracey Takes On...||Judge Loring||Episode: "Vanity"|
|1996||Tales from the Crypt||Laura Kendall||Episode: "Horror in the Night"|
|1997||Clover||Sara Kate||Television film|
|1999||The Scarlet Pimpernel||Lady Marguerite Blakeney||3 episodes|
|2000||Thursday the 12th||Candice Hopper||Television film|
|2001||The Flamingo Rising||Edna Lee||Television film|
|2001||Hawk||Susie Hawkins||Television film|
|2001||Table 12||Mel||Episode: "Preserves"|
|2003||The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire||Helen Shaw||7 episodes|
|2006||Three Moons over Milford||Laura Davis||8 episodes|
|2007||Daphne||Ellen Doubleday||Television film|
|2007||A Room with a View||Mrs. Honeychurch||Television film|
|2007||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Dr. Faith Sutton||Episode: "Harm"|
|2008||Agatha Christie's Poirot||Dame Celia Westholme||Episode: "Appointment with Death"|
|2009||10 Minute Tales||The Ex-Wife||Episode: "The Running of the Deer"|
|2010–2015||Downton Abbey||Cora, Countess of Grantham||52 episodes|
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (2013, 2015)
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elizabeth McGovern.|
- Theatre Record and its annual Indexes
- "Katharine Watts Is Future Bride Of Law Alumnus; Engaged to William M. McGovern Jr., Who Is Harvard Graduate". The New York Times. 1958-06-22.
- "Marriage Announcement 1 -- No Title". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1958-09-19.
- Cass, Judith (1958-06-18). "Burnhams to Celebrate in West". Chicago Daily Tribune.
- Hoggard, Liz (1 November 2010). "Elizabeth McGovern is the real dame of Downtown". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- Heawood, Sophie (2008-02-08). "Elizabeth McGovern: from Hollywood to a South London pub". Times Online. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
- "Last night on television". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2007-05-14.
- Downton Abbey at ITV.com
- "Downton Abbey's Elizabeth McGovern goes all grunge out with band Sadie and the Hotheads". Daily Mail. 15 January 2013.
- The Times, interview with Michelle Dockery, 6 November 2010
- Gardner, Lyn (2008-10-03). "Aristo: Minerva, Chichester". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-07.
- Goldstein,, Jessica (7 August 2013). "Backstage: Rorschach and Synetic thrilled with Kickstarter campaigns". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
- "Why I had to escape Hollywood's clutches: Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern on why she had to leave fiance Sean Penn". Daily Mail. 29 October 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- Gilbert, Gerard (18 December 2010). "'Hollywood never suited me': Elizabeth McGovern on fleeing LA and Downton Abbey's Lady Cora". The Independent. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- "Downton's Elizabeth McGovern: 'Ladies, never say never. It isn't over yet...'". The Daily Telegraph. 14 September 2014.